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Bottle Rocket Hearts

by Zoe Whittall

Bottle Rocket Hearts, the first novel from former Montrealer Zoe Whittall, who now lives in Toronto, follows the life of Eve, a gay (though occasionally sexually omnivorous) young woman on the cusp of adulthood, as she negotiates life and love in Montreal in the mid-1990s.

The novel opens with Eve sitting in the waiting room at Montreal General Hospital, waiting for word about her girlfriend, Della, who may be having a mental breakdown. As she waits, Eve writes in a notebook. She begins by making random notes about herself and her life, but is soon waxing philosophic about love and relationships. The language she uses to describe her feelings and experiences, though not exactly clichéd, is fairly precious. Most people go through a navel-gazing stage at some point, but it’s not necessarily something other people want to read about.

Luckily, this is only the novel’s first chapter, and it’s a brief one. From the second chapter on, the novel jumps back in time to follow Eve’s involvement with Della chronologically from the beginning, before winding up at the hospital for an unexpected conclusion.

Eve is angst-ridden and confused, struggling to define herself within the anglo-franco, straight-queer dichotomies of her city. Whittall does an excellent job of tempering Eve’s youthful inexperience and occasional self-importance with the relative wisdom and calm of those around her. Both her roommate and girlfriend, though not without their own flaws or moments of intense narcissism, possess a jaded pragmatism that Eve lacks.

Ultimately, Whittall pulls off a believable coming-of-age story. Eve’s angst and naïveté slowly ebb away as a series of intensely dramatic events force her to stare into the bleak face of the real world. Her growth, dramatized strongly in the novel’s final scenes, makes Bottle Rocket Hearts a Bildungsroman worth reading.